Michigan, Mitt Romney's -for real- home state votes on Feb 28th, a mere 2 weeks away but that's a lot of time in a by-the-hour political news cycle. Michigan is important, coming as Romney tries to regain--and then solidify a slipping-away momentum. The Michigan election been described as 'make or break' and, certainly, if Santorum wins there it'll look a lot like "break" because Maine, while nominally for Romney, is still in play (and Ron Paul may have won it anyway when the delegates are finally selected). The CPAC straw poll, as one pundit said, makes up the delegate count Mitt lost in his stunning Missouri upset (neither resulted in any delegates!) and no less than Rush Limbaugh has said the CPAC win didn't meany anything.
As I noted a couple of posts ago, Romney has to decide exactly how to hit Santorum--and the while there's plenty of ammunition, the really good stuff is on the left. And, the fact is, Mr. Romney is getting his ass kicked. With only one office in Michigan (compared to 16 for Hillary and Obama each in '08) he's likely to rely on the air-war ... which means (probably) more targeted negative advertising.
I'll suggest this: The video at the link has been pulled, but there's a transcript of Santorum talking up the evils of ... contraception. It's not clear when this was done but I've seen suggestions it was pretty recent (October?) and, as we see now, hyper-relevant. According to the Nate Silver article Romney has to mobilize his marginal voter base against the harder-core 'certain' voters who are for Santorum by like 10 points. Here's a quote by Santorum:
One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea ... Many in the Christian faith have said, "Well, that's okay ... contraception's okay."
It's not okay because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal ... but also procreative.As I've said, a lot of GOP people think that a Santorum win would be a disaster and that means there's going to be pressure for somebody to do something:
You have to figure the prevailing sentiment in elite GOP circles is that they’d love to see Ricky succumb to foul play, but don’t want their own, or even Mitt’s, fingerprints on the weapon. But there’s not a lot of time for dithering or scruples or wishing and hoping Ricky does himself in: a double Santorum win in MI and AZ on February 28 would be a serious problem for Romney, and for the party. I’m not privy to the internal councils of Republicans, but it’s likely they are waking up to this reality, and will ultimately either unleash Mitt to go hog-wild-negative, or push enough money in his direction to saturate media in these two states with enough positive propaganda to nominate the Infernal Prince of Darkness himself (so long as he promised to cut taxes, bash unions and oppose legalized abortion).Without air-wave saturation--especially for Republican voters who may stick to Fox news--I don't see how the message can get out in time for the primary.
Where Are The Battle Lines?
From what I can tell Santorum is surging with both blue-collar workers (with which Michigan is loaded, making Romney's 1%-profile a dangerous liability) and, now, the Tea Party. If the Tea Party is going to support Santorum, even though in many ways he's worse than Romney, record-wise then Romney is, frankly, in a lot of trouble. If saying the right things won't work for him what's he got left? Planting a bomb in his abdomen and giving the kill switch to Paul Ryan? It's Norquist who claims that Romney's a good bet because he's so weak Congress will be able to push him around: Strength through inferior firepower is a new one on me.
I think the real problem, though, is going to be what happens if Gingrich collapses and Santorum captures the Southern Not-Romney and (and he should already have it) evangelical vote. Evangelicals and other Social Conservatives have Santorum as not just a candidate of choice but pretty much their ultimate culture-warrior. And, they are organized.
Out of sight of the tweets, jokes, and image macros that often give wings to progressive causes online, the religious right has placed its bets on the banal dirty work of real-world electoral politics. And that long-term dedication to building a political infrastructure has placed it in a strong position on certain culture-war issues even as public opinion turns more sharply against it.If Santorum can leverage that organization, not dissimilar to how Bush / Rove did in 2000, he just might make up some lost ground in time and money.
What Do I Think?
I think that Romney had better go negative and go negative fast. He can rebuild his cred if he can knock Santorum out before Super Tuesday (seems unlikely--but it's impossible if Santorum wins Michigan and Arizona) and then make at least nominal apologies on his way to the coronation (stepping over Gingrich's fallen campaign along the way). Just as in a title fight you don't want to let the decision go to the judges: a brokered convention would be all kinds of messy and might force Romney (probably the guy who'll be holding the most delegates, even if not the 1455 needed to win) to partner with, like, Ron Paul or maybe even Jeb Bush (!?).
I also think that while Santorum may have a winning hand in the primaries he has, almost unquestionably, a losing hand in the general, with the general populace:
Santorum’s contraception boom — “We’re all Catholics now,” said Mike Huckabee — won’t hold up. Because we’re not.This means that Santorum's Not-Romney surge may follow the traditional 'ballistic' trajectory we have seen for all the other Not-Romney's for this election cycle. Unfortunately this time, with real delegates on the line instead of InTrade betting points, Romney can't just afford to wait it out.